Last year Wild Welfare’s Animal Welfare Field Manager, Sarah Bonser-Blake, journeyed to Malaysia, to orchestrate a two-day workshop sparking positive change across zoological facilities in the region.
Sarah’s aim for the workshop was to enhance animal welfare through educational empowerment. Hosted by Melaka Zoo, the workshop was held in a mix of Malay and English, and played host to over 30 enthusiastic attendees. The audience was a diverse mix, comprising representatives from Melaka Zoo, several other local zoological facilities, and students from veterinary medicine courses.
At the core of the workshop lay the theme of enrichment, and how it can be used to contribute towards a better life for captive animals. Throughout the two days, there were discussions held on getting creative with enrichment, health and safety considerations, and of course, an introduction to animal welfare to underpin enrichment activities.
The use of enrichment devices such as toys, furniture, or other sensory stimulation is an essential element in providing behavioural opportunities for animals. For example, a sun bear benefits from having a log ladder in their enclosure so they can climb and explore. Enrichment can support positive mental welfare in captive animals through the promotion of rewarding behaviours.
Amongst the presentations and video content to illustrate the topic, the group also undertook a sharing session, creating a platform to discuss past enrichment successes, ideas and stories. From tigers playing with hessian sacks to tortoises exploring newly planted areas of an enclosure, the idea was to be open and honest with the group. If an enrichment idea hadn’t worked in the past, there was no judgement, just an exploration of what could be improved for next time.
An additional exercise during the workshop saw the participants designing their own enrichment devices on paper, using the enrichment road map to guide each stage of development. Each group selected a species, researched naturally occurring behaviours and designed a device to encourage a specific activity. The groups then shared their designs with each other.
It wasn’t all classroom-based learning however, with the participants visiting enclosures around the zoo such as the bears, leopards and orangutan to discuss what simple additions could be made to improve welfare.
Encouraging everyone to think up theoretical enrichment designs during the course was one thing, but actually building the devices was an entirely different aspect to the workshop. The participants were able to experience the practicalities of an enrichment build as they each helped to put together foraging devices for some of the animals at the zoo. Each student wrestled with lengths of firehose, using nuts and bolts to create trickle feeders affectionately dubbed as ‘honeycombs.’ Once built, they were given to the elephants and rhinos. Although the honeycombs were designed primarily to encourage foraging behaviours, as it would turn out, they went above and beyond, fostering play, manipulation, and even sparring among the rhinos.
“Watching the animals interact with the new devices was brilliant, but what was even better was to see the reactions from the workshop participants. They were clearly enjoying the experience and got a lot out of seeing the animals using their freshly built enrichment.” Sarah Bonser-Blake, Wild Welfare.
The workshop culminated with the presentation of certificates to all participants, acknowledging their dedication to enhancing animal welfare. Attendees were also equipped with additional Wild Welfare resources and were gifted five large posters of the enrichment road map in Malay, ready to guide their future enrichment efforts.
The enthusiasm radiating from the workshop participants was palpable. Lightbulb moments and excitement over innovative ideas painted a bright future for captive animal welfare in Malaysia. Some keepers wasted no time in experimenting with enrichment concepts in their facilities, eager to elevate the well-being of the animals under their care.
Melaka Zoo were fantastic hosts, providing a warm and welcoming atmosphere that facilitated the open exchange of ideas. The Wild Welfare team extend their heartfelt thanks for the hospitality and genuine enthusiasm displayed by the zoo.
In reflecting on the workshop, Sarah said, “The group was brilliant to teach. They were very eager to learn and absorbed the information like sponges. We also had a lot of fun making the enrichment devices, and I didn’t expect we’d make so many! Healthy competition between the teams spurred each one to outdo the other. It was a fantastic couple of days, and I look forward to witnessing more innovative enrichment designs from the participants in the future.”
Wild Welfare is devoted to improving the welfare of captive animals, worldwide. You can support our. efforts by sharing this article, signing up to our newsletter, following our social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X), or making a donation. As little as £5 can help us develop accessible animal resources. As a small charity we are reliant upon the generosity of those who are passionate about improving captive animal lives. Please consider donating here.
Notes to Editors
For more information or interview requests please contact Wild Welfare on email@example.com
Wild Welfare is a global organisation committed to improving animal welfare for captive wild animals. By uniting the world’s leading zoos, zoo associations and animal welfare organisations, we build trusting partnerships that help provide long-term solutions to critical wild animal welfare issues.
Our vision is a world where every captive wild animal is able to thrive and live a good life. Find out more at wildwelfare.org. Registered charity in England (no.1165941).